The RCMP is set to examine the spending of three senators after external audits of their expenses revealed they billed thousands of dollars in ineligible housing expenses, says the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate.
In an interview CBC Radio's The House, Liberal Senator James Cowan said the Mounties are looking at the Deloitte audits into the primary and secondary residences of Senators Patrick Brazeau, Mike Duffy and Mac Harb.
"I understand that they're looking at it. I understand that they've been following this case very closely and they will be reviewing the documents that weren't available until Thursday afternoon," said Cowan on Saturday.
Based on the Deloitte audits, a Senate committee report released Thursday recommended Brazeau must repay $48,744 and Harb $51,482 for housing and mileage expenses.
The report also noted Duffy had already repaid $90,000 in claims in March when it became apparent to him that he "may have made a mistake" in filling out his expense forms.
"It's my understanding that they [the RCMP] have been following this closely and they will review the documents that were filed in the Senate on Thursday. As is entirely appropriate," Cowan said.
Senators who live more than 100 kilometres from Ottawa are allowed to claim housing expenses of up to $22,000 a year.
According to Cowan, the Senate could take further disciplinary action against the senators and a criminal investigation may also be warranted.
"I'm just out to make sure that there is due process followed. And if there are offences under the Criminal Code that those are pursued," Cowan said.
Changing the rules
Cowan and the Leader of the Government in the Senate initiated the probe together, though Conservative Senator Marjory Lebreton doesn't see the need for the police to investigate.
The Senate's "archaic rules" are to blame for the confusion, said Lebreton.
"The fact is, and the auditor's have pointed this out, some of the rules were unclear — and are unclear."
According to Lebreton, having the senators pay back the claims with interest is good enough.
"We have now brought in very, very strict new rules so there can be no doubt," Lebreton said.
The Senate report recommended that rules about claiming per diems should be changed and that senators should have to provide receipts for all taxi use. Previously, senators could claim up to $30 without a receipt.
The proposed new rules, according to Lebreton, "will clear this up, once and for all."
Harb disputed the Senate report's findings and retained a lawyer immediately after it was released.
Brazeau, a former Conservative who now sits as an Independent, is currently suspended from the Senate over a criminal charge in a separate matter.
Cowan said he is reserving judgment until he hears from all the senators involved but would like to see Duffy appear before the Senate to explain what was so confusing when he filled out his expense forms.
"I would like to hear him explain what it is in the forms that he found confusing," Cowan said.
Parliament resumes on May 21 after the Victoria Day long weekend.
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Pamela Wallin, at Tory senator from Saskatchewan, also found her expense claims under close scrutiny in Februrary when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/13/pamela-wallin-travel-expenses-harper_n_2680229.html" target="_blank">she billed taxpayers $142,190.26 for trips between March 1, 2011, and Feb. 29, 2012</a>. But only $10,551.99 of her expenses were related to travel between Ottawa and Saskatchewan, while the remaining $131,638.27 was filed under "Other." Questions were also raised about whether or not she satisfied the residency requirement needed to represent Saskatchewan in the Upper Chamber. Wallin split her time between Toronto and New York prior to being named a senator in 2008, but <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/senate-residency-pamela-wallin-duffy_n_2648325.html" target="_blank">does own a plot of land in the province and two properties with family members.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Patrick Brazeau first came under fire in December of 2012 amid reports he was using <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">his former father-in-law's address </a>in Maniwaki, Que., to claim a Senate housing allowance, while actually living in Gatineau, just across the river from Parliament Hill. The Senate Board of Internal Economy subsequently asked an auditor to look at Brazeau's residency claims and expenses. In early February, Brazeau was arrested and charged with <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/08/patrick-brazeau-charges-sexual-assault_n_2643606.html?utm_hp_ref=patrick-brazeau" target="_blank">assault and sexual assault </a>after a heated argument with his girlfriend turned violent. The charges promptly got Brazeau turfed from the Conservative caucus. On February 12, Brazeau was <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/12/canadians-growing-ever-we_n_2667332.html" target="_blank">suspended indefinitely </a>from the Upper Chamber. <em>With files from CP</em>
Conservative Mike Duffy also courted controversy over his housing allowance. The P.E.I. senator <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">claimed his cottage in Cavendish as his primary residence</a> and his long-time in home in Kanata, a suburb of Ottawa, as a secondary residence for which he collected $33,000 in living allowances he since 2010. While always maintaining he was entitled to the compensation, Duffy <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/02/22/mike-duffy-paying-back-money_n_2744800.html" target="_blank">vowed on February 22 to repay the money</a>. He blamed the entire issue on confusing and vague Senate paperwork. <em>With files from CP</em>
Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, a Conservative senator from Quebec, came under fire in early March when it was revealed <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/03/pierre-hugues-boisvenu-senate_n_2803052.html?utm_hp_ref=pierre-boisvenu" target="_blank">he collected a housing allowance of $20,000 despite living little more than a drive across a bridge from Parliament.</a> Boisvenu claimed his primary residence was in Sherbrooke, but sources said he had been staying at his secondary residence in Gatineau since separating from his wife in February, 2012. Boisvenu was then forced to admit in March that he had been <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">carrying on a relationship with an aide, Isabelle Lapointe</a>. The Senate ethics officer had told him last year that he couldn't have his girlfriend on the office payroll but Boisvenu ignored the warning for months. The two have since split up and Lapointe is now working elsewhere. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2013/03/26/pierre-boisvenu-affair_n_2957596.html" target="_blank">Boisvenu has repaid the $900 stipend he collected while living with Lapointe for three months near Ottawa.</a> <em>With files from CP</em>
Liberal senator Mac Harb also had his expenses audited after it was discovered that he claimed <a href="http://metronews.ca/news/canada/560000/senate-controversy-senator-mac-harbs-home-in-the-spotlight/" target="_blank">about $40,212 in living expenses for a secondary residence in Ottawa from Nov. 30, 2010 to Nov. 30, 2012</a>. Harb, a former Ottawa MP, claims his primary residence is <a href="http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/senator-harb-rarely-seen-in-area-he-calls-home-neighbours-1.1198184" target="_blank">a bungalow in the tiny village of Westmeath</a>, but neighbours claim that nobody lives there year-round and that it is basically a cottage.
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